Thousands of people in western Africa and across the world have died in the past year from the Ebola virus, and while the threat has been greatly reduced, treating the highly-contagious illness has proven extremely difficult, not to mention risky for medical professionals. But researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston and the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, have developed an inhalable Ebola vaccine which has protected primates against the disease, The New York Times reported.
Since it doesn't require a syringe, it's possible patients could administer the new vaccine to themselves, reducing the impact of a shortage of doctors and nurses who presently have to give the current vaccine with a syringe. And as Newsweek reported, it would get around the problem of patients wary of syringes and doctors, which one researcher said was a significant taboo in some west African cultures.
"A needle-free, inhalable vaccine against Ebola presents certain advantages," the study's lead author Michelle Meyer said in a statement. "Immunization will not require trained medical personnel."
While it will take several months before the vaccine could be used to treat Ebola patients, the breakthrough is timely, with the World Health Organization announcing earlier this month that 30 new cases of the virus have been discovered in Africa, including three new cases in Liberia, which was declared Ebola-free back in May.
Between March 2014 and March 2015, there were more than 10,000 cases of Ebola, overwhelmingly in the countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea. Monrovia, the Liberian capital, was ravaged by the virus, with patients outnumbering available hospital beds when the virus was at its peak. And of the more than 300 health care workers who contracted Ebola while treating patients in Liberia, 180 died, according to the WHO. Sierra Leone and Guinea were also hard-hit, but no country suffered as much from Ebola as Liberia did.
"The initial several decades of attempts to develop a vaccine against the Ebola virus were unsuccessful," virologist Alexander Bukreyev, one of the authors of the research paper told the Times. "This is one of the few vaccines that works."
So while researchers and others in the health profession are hopeful about the new inhalable vaccine, they are tempering that enthusiasm with caution because it's not quite time to celebrate just yet. As the Times reported, an earlier Ebola vaccine that showed promise in treating the disease in monkeys was unsuccessful in treating the virus in humans.
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